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Live Your Life
I was in seventh grade. It was about two months after Christmas. I was aimlessly wandering around my parents’ room, searching for the earrings my mom had borrowed from me the day before. I suddenly noticed a piece of paper, with a fun intricate border poking out beneath their king-sized bed. Intrigued by the colorful trim on the paper, I picked it up and began to read it. By the time I had finished reading the paper, I was on the floor, with tears streaming down my face.***
I remember the day the Zara’s moved in next door. We had only lived in our house for a few months, and my family was excited that we were getting new neighbors. There could not have been a better match. The family moving in was a family of five, like ours. In my family’s eyes, they were the neighbors that came down from heaven. The father of their family was named Tony, like my dad, and both were the same age and enjoyed sports, their jobs, poker, and the occasional beer. The mother of their family, Anne, was the same age as my mom and both bonded over cooking and talking about children and their husbands. For my brother Anthony, there was Joseph, another 5 year old boy, who loved sports, mischief, videogames, and harassing girls with water and nerf guns. For my 1 year old brother Nick, there was a one year old boy named Nick. Freakish, Right? But for me, the luck ran out. I was stuck with a boy companion. His name was Chris, and he was my age, but I had wished for a girl. It just didn’t seem fair that everyone else had a same sex, built in best friend when this new family moved in.
After a few weeks, I warmed up to the Zara’s. At first I was a little bit annoyed that I had no one to play dress up with and that Anthony was always at Joseph’s house. But, it was nice that every time I walked into my backyard, someone from next door would accompany me. Eventually Chris and I started talking and we climbed trees together and played soccer. We walked the 30 steps from our houses to Birchwood preschool together from the first day of preschool until the last.
As the years went on, Chris and I became best friends (as much as a boy and girl could be). He taught me that boys didn’t have cooties, showed me how to play Donkey Kong 64, and explained to me what lactose intolerant meant. He was my constant companion and protector. He even practiced gymnastics with me when I wanted to work on my round-offs. On warm summer days, we would walk to the pool together, and he would introduce me to his friends that were boys. We were always the first to arrive at the others’ birthday party, even though we might have been the only boy or girl there. He’s the reason that I am not completely uncoordinated, have never gotten mad when boys chased me, and that I know that the Chicago Bears is a football team. Everything wasn’t perfect; I mean, we had our fights and problems, and there were times when we would disagree, or that he would ditch me for his guy friends, or I would toss him aside for my girls, but for the most part, our friendship ran smoothly.
I was three when the Zara’s moved in next door. I was eleven when the moving van pulled up next door. Mr. Zara took a new job in Minnesota, because his current job was at risk. I was devastated. Who would I play with? Who would I walk to school with? Who would go to the pool with me? Who would listen to me? Who would protect me? My security blanket was gone, leaving me naked, cold, and afraid. I didn’t say a long goodbye on the day they left. But right after their final farewell, I rode my bike to the Birchwood bike path, and sobbed until the tears could not come out any longer. When I came back with a bright red face, I told my parents that I thought I had allergies and should see a doctor.
The Zara’s emailed and contacted us after they left, but of course, eventually, our contact with them lessened until it had diminished to just a Christmas picture and letter once a year. ***
I reread the letter, and pinched my face to make sure what I was reading was in fact true. I wasn’t dreaming. The line that stopped me up and put a lump in my throat every time was, “Chris was recently diagnosed with leukemia. He is going to start chemo soon, and has to get surgery on his legs.” The line was brief, but powerful. I felt horrible about all the times I had eaten icecream in front of him, savoring it, even though I knew he couldn’t have any. I felt evil for not saying goodbye when they left. I felt helpless because I was so far away, and there was nothing I could do to cure him. I was angry that God would do this to them. This letter didn’t even have a picture, so I couldn’t even see what my poor friend looked like. Eventually, after all my crying and angry feelings, I grew tired. When I could finally pick myself up off the floor, I stomped down the stairs all the way to the basement, and just looked at my mom. Holding up the letter, between sobs, I screeched, “Why… didn’t… you … TELL… ME?... How… could… you… hide…this…from…me!” She was silent. In her calm motherly voice she replied, “Sweetie, I forgot. I’m sorry. I’m sure the Zara’s are busy right now, maybe we can write them a letter sometime. Things will be ok.” For a moment, though I was still puzzled as to how she could forget to tell me, I believed her. Eventually, I calmed down.
I read this letter in 7th grade. Soon enough 8th graduation came, and my excitement for freshman year and the ridiculous amount of activities I was involved in made me forget about Chris- at least for a while.
During the summer between eighth grade and freshman year, on my second day working at the Birchwood Pool as a Pool Attendant (a.k.a. pool janitor and personal assistant to the managers), I was sweeping the deck, and came across Chet Zara, a regular adult swim walker, who happened to be Chris’s grandpa. He immediately struck up a conversation with me, and after learning that I had lived next door to his son Tony (because my house backs up to Birchwood, and he started talking about how his son used to live there), he started updating me on the family. When he started talking about Chris, and how he had been reduced to less than 60 pounds, had multiple surgeries on his legs and neck, had grown pale, and had lost most of his hair, I had to use all my strength not to immediately burst into tears and run home. When I was alone that night, I just sat and thought for a while.
There is a reason why I love facebook. The day after I created my facebook was the day I started talking to Chris again. He was still alive. He was unhappy and sick, but he was doing his best and making it through. I admire unimaginable strength. After he was diagnosed and started treatment, he continued with school, and his mom, Anne, who at ages three through eleven was my surrogate aunt, had homeschooled him while he was doing chemo treatments. He fought and battled, and after passing out in halls, having his legs give out from underneath him, and being scared to death (literally) he had made it through. I aspire to have that kind of courage, strength, and hope.
This year, Chris finished chemo. He is well, in school, and is planning to go to University of Wisconsin Madison. Around Christmas time, the Zara’s came back to Palatine for the first time in years, and had an end of Chemo party for Chris. Though Chris has many scars, is sickly skinny, and is ghostly pale, he looks stronger than he ever has before. He still has the fun-loving characteristics of my best friend that he had when we were young. At the party we talked for a few hours, (I felt special because he talked to me more than anyone else) reminiscing about old times and telling the other about how things had changed, until everyone had to leave; I realized how much we had all grown up. I was amazed at the fact that after all these years, we were all still here, healthy, and well. So after all this, I started to appreciate what I have. I appreciated my amazing childhood, my astounding health, my wonderful friends, Chris’s strength, my success, my family, and my friends, and just life in general. I stopped assuming that things like health and friends should just be given to everyone, and I realized that things can be lost at any time, so I should be grateful for them while they’re here. And as for you, the one thing I’d like to leave you with is this: Love the skin you’re in. Appreciate what you have. Don’t ask why you don’t have this or that, but rather be grateful. Live, laugh, and love. Things change and people move, get sick, and die everyday and you never know if you’re going to be next; so live your life like every day is your last day on earth. Live your life to the fullest, because it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.